Hey folks! Today we get another peek into these amazing Snow White retellings with a fantastic guest post by the author of Overpowered, Kathryn McConaughy! Just a reminder in case you missed the last post, these are seven Snow White inspired retellings that are part of the Seven Magic Mirrors joint release. You can find more stops on the blog tour here, and be sure to look for information about the giveaway while you’re there!
Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy
Taliyah bat Shammai is fleeing a terrible crime. Though she has no hope of shelter, she must keep running—for the Avenger will be coming. Even losing herself in the mist-haunted hills cannot protect her for long. But perhaps other criminals can…
Yotam bin Yerubba’la has left his home, his only guide a cryptic dream. Endangered by a perilous secret, he soon finds himself among men with secrets of their own—in a place where trusting others may be his most serious mistake… or his best defense.
Cypress and his band have been mercenaries for a long time. Criminals all, they don’t trust easily and never reveal their hearts. But when a battle goes horribly wrong, each man must decide whether he fights for gold, for fame, or for something yet more rare…
Disguised as a boy, Taliyah finds the outlaw life to be full of more questions than answers. What are those strange tracks around the ruined houses? Why is Yotam so calm in the face of battle? Where are the rest of Cypress’ men? And who is the Avenger?
There may not be much time for Taliyah to find the answers, for war is about to ignite in the hills. And they all will burn…
Now, without further ado, Kathryn herself on the inspiration of this fantastic historical fantasy!
The Inspiration for Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy
What inspired Overpowered? A lot of different things. I’m never short of inspiration, just short of time to write things down!
Obviously, Rooglewood’s Five Poisoned Apples contest was a big factor, because I had to write a Snow White story. This was a challenge for me, as I’ve never been a huge fan of this particular fairy tale. While Snow White is more sensible than many fairy tale heroines, managing to make a new home for herself with her work ethic and housekeeping skills, she is also very naïve, instantly trusting groups of men in the woods and mysterious old ladies. (Can I ask—how did Snow White learn to cook? You don’t see many princesses in kitchens.) Then she rides off into the sunset with a man whose only credentials are that he can kiss a dead/sleeping woman and that a previous member of his bloodline achieved political power. I don’t think it’s the plot itself that I have a problem with—like Snow White, many people do live life reacting rather than acting—rather, it’s the fact that Snow White’s choices are presented so positively. “Of course you should marry the handsome stranger. And of course your friends the dwarves will be perfectly okay with this.”
Ayeh. So it took me a while to wrap my head around writing a Snow White retelling. I originally tried writing an SF version in which Snow flees the colony where she grew up after her stepmother tries to have her killed for her planetary corporation shares, but my SF Snow kept coming across as too passive. So I moved back to my home court—the mythic ancient Near East—and started a version that was set there. I made Taliyah more active from the very beginning, a woman wary and brave, though still a bit too trusting.
The first scene I wrote was the one where Taliyah, my heroine, approaches the outlaw camp and meets my “dwarves.” I love writing “band of brothers” characters—they play off each other so well. And, as you know if you read “Guardian of Our Beauty,” I find the Late Bronze Age hillmen endlessly fascinating. I had been reading a lot of books and articles on the relationship between townsfolk and nomads in the ancient Near East, so that information also made its way into the story and into the character backgrounds. Anyway, in this scene I was able to explore who Taliyah was and how she was going to relate to the other characters. I was amazed that she was able to get Thorn, the band’s paranoid lookout, to talk to her, but their first conversation was wonderful. After that, I was really excited to be writing her story.
About half of the ideas that took root in Overpowered had been hanging out in my head waiting to be used long before I knew that I would be writing a Snow White retelling. For example, I’m very interested in the ancient Near Eastern wisdom traditions, whether they be in the Bible or out of it. I think that we often don’t appreciate what a big part those wisdom traditions—whether in the form of proverbs, poems, or parables—played in the lives of the ancient people. There was one character, a middle-aged man who only communicates in proverbs, who had been living in my head for quite some time. So when I saw an opportunity to drop him into this story (where he would have to stay instead of wandering around in my brain making trouble) I wrote him in. That’s where Willow came from.
Many of my favorite wisdom tales from the Bible use plant imagery. My favorite of all is Jotham’s cautionary speech to the Shechemites in Judges 9. Distressed by their support of his murderous brother, he tells them a story about trees. The trees want to have a king, but all of the trees with good reputations turn down the job. Finally, the trees ask the bramble to rule over them. The bramble agrees, but pronounces a terrible curse on them if they betray him. (Basically, Jotham is trying to tell the Shechemites that making his brother king was a bad idea.) I’ve always been intrigued by this tree tale, so I amused myself by giving my “dwarves” tree names in keeping with their appearances and personalities. The grumpy “dwarf” is named Thorn, the giant is named Cedar, and so on.
Then I thought, “Why not make the homage to Judges 9 more obvious by letting Jotham’s brother Abimelek run around in the background?” So I put him in. In the Five Poisoned Apples version of the story, you never actually met him, you just got Easter Egg-like references to him and his campaigns through the hill country.
Then Jotham turned up and said, “I’ve just had to flee after giving that tree speech against my brother. I think I’ll join this outlaw band.” Well. I couldn’t chase him away; he was so friendly and polite. So I thought that he could be a dwarf, and maybe no one would notice that he was a biblical figure.
Then Taliyah started noticing how brave and kind and godly he was. Long story short, he ended up as the hero of the piece, and I went back and wrote a bunch of scenes from his perspective.
As you can see, Overpowered came together from a lot of different sources—but I think that it really did come together into one integrated story world, a story world that I loved writing about. In fact, I got so attached to these characters that I’m working on a sequel! I’m very excited to share the story with you all. I hope you enjoy it.
I had the great opportunity to read this story, and I have to say it was such a refreshing taste of a culture we very rarely read in most fiction, and especially as a fantasy! If you have any interest in the Near East, or fantasy, definitely give this a try!